As Pope Considers Progressive New Policies for Amazon Catholics, Traditionalists Destroy 'Pagan' Indigenous Statues

Amidst tensions at the Vatican's Synod for the Amazon, the Associated Press reports that Catholic activists removed two Pachamama statues that were used for indigenous celebrations and services from a Vatican chapel and threw them into the Tiber River on Monday. The destruction of the statues occurred during a three-week meeting on the challenges the church is facing in the Amazon region, including an extreme shortage of priests.

Proposals for overcoming the lack of clergy have ranged from the tame—such as Bishop Johnny Eduardo Reyes of Venezuela's call to establish new ministries that would bring Catholic priests from other parts of the world to the Amazon—to the revolutionary.

One group of bishops proposed an "Amazonian Rite," which would allow bishops to determine if married men in Amazon regions were fit for priesthood on a case-by-case basis, Religion News Service reports. Another proposal also allows for distinguished women in indigenous communities to become deacons.

While Pope Francis has previously stated that he's open to allowing non-celibate priests in regions such as the Pacific Islands, according to America Magazine reports, the prospect of allowing married men to be ordained has pitted progressive Catholics and traditionalists against each other.

Some of that debate centered around the Pachamama statues, with some Catholic leaders accusing the synod of welcoming in pagan symbolism. Catholic news outlet Crux Now reported that some clergy defended the statues as "an indigenous statue of the Virgin Mary," an argument which was countered when a Synod communications official told a press conference that the statue was merely a representation of life, according to one Catholic News Agency report.

Many religious leaders denounced the theft of the statues as an act of contempt toward indigenous people. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor of America Magazine called it "astonishing" in a tweet, adding that "All this hatred leads inevitably to violence."

The hatred and contempt that the Synod for the Amazon has unleashed is astonishing. A hatred for indigenous peoples and their cultures. A portrayal of them as "other." And a hatred of course for Pope Francis. All this hatred leads inevitably to violence.

— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) October 21, 2019

Still, others such as writer Emily Zanotti supported to removal of the statues, calling it "righteous" to be angry at what they considered evidence of outside, non-Christian influence on the Vatican.

We don't hate indigenous peoples. We have righteous hatred for the presence of false, pagan idols in Catholic churches. That anyone would need to defend such a presence in order to defend the Synod speaks volumes.

— Emily Zanotti (@emzanotti) October 21, 2019

Many traditionalists fear that allowing priests to marry in the Amazon would cause priests in other parts of the world to seek marital rights. Crux Now pointed to Father Justino Sarmento Rezende, a celibate indigenous priest who offered that celibacy is a choice. In a statement he said, "So it's very important to live celibacy by making an effort, with help and by living in the most balanced possible way."

Once the synod comes to a close, Pope Francis will determine the Church's course of action in the Amazon. With the meeting slated to conclude on October 27, the Holy See is set to issue its final report on to challenges ranging from clergy staffing to deforestation.

Pope Franics Synod Married Priests
Pope Francis' decision after the synod could be one of the first decisions that would allow married men to become priests in the Amazon. The Pope has previously supported the idea of married priests in some parts of the world. Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Getty